Lawmakers back immunity for teens who dial 911
DENVER – Teenagers and underage drinkers who dial 911 to help someone who’s had too much alcohol would have limited immunity from prosecution under a proposed new law brought about by the death of college sophomore this fall.Under the measure teens wouldn’t be charged with underage drinking if they call for an ambulance and remain with the person until help arrives. To get immunity, they would also have to cooperate with police and paramedics at the scene but they wouldn’t have to answer any follow up questions later if investigators needed more information about who provided the alcohol.House Bill 1183 nearly failed because members of the House and Senate couldn’t agree at first on how much protection to give those teens who call for help. Neither side was happy with the final bill, which also strengthens the penalty for people who provide alcohol to minors.Under the bill, which now heads to Gov. Owens, anyone over 21 convicted of providing alcohol would face up to 18 months in jail and a fine of $500 to $5,000.Currently, providing alcohol to a minor can result in up to 12 months behind bars and a fine between $250 and $1,000.Rep. Angie Paccione, D-Fort Collins, said the idea for immunity came out from a task force that investigated drinking at Colorado State University following the death of sophomore Sam Spady. She was found dead in September after a night of heavy drinking.Paccione said teens are inclined to just leave a friend passed out on a couch because they think first about whether they will get in trouble.”Now that kids are drinking a whole quart of vodka, sleeping it off is a death sentence,” Paccione said.She said she would have preferred that teens would only have to cooperate with medical personnel and not police because she thinks it would send a clearer message to teens to help. She said any parent who has lost a child would gladly give up knowing who provided the alcohol to them in exchange for having someone get them help.Another lawmaker from Fort Collins – Republican Sen. Steve Johnson – as well as prosecutors, thought teens should have to cooperate with investigators to get immunity. That’s customary in other kinds of cases.Johnson said the reality is that most teens will act out of impulse on whether they will call for help, so he agreed to limit their cooperation to the scene.Paccione said she would like to work on another bill next year to make it clearer that teens wouldn’t have to help investigators.Her bill would only give protection for minors who were drinking, a misdemeanor. It wouldn’t protect anyone who provided alcohol to a minor from being prosecuted.Another bill being considered at the state Capitol would allow a judge to suspend the drivers’ licenses of people convicted of giving alcohol to minors.
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